2/19/2014 4:55 P.M. ET
Prospect trio working together to reach big leagues
Johnson, Sanchez and Semien refuse to let competition affect friendship
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- There would figure to be a little competitive fire existing between the White Sox prospect trio of Micah Johnson, Carlos Sanchez and Marcus Semien.
After all, this young core of talented middle infielders compete for basically the same big league opportunities with the South Siders, whether those opportunities come sooner or in the slightly more distant future. Instead, this is a group that works together, and in the case of Johnson and Semien, live together in Arizona for the duration of Spring Training.
They work as a unit, as opposed to tearing each other down, dropping their individual chances into the bigger picture of helping the team as a whole.
Any thoughts of selfishness on their part get washed away by listening to Semien and Johnson praise Sanchez. It was Sanchez who was being talked about as having an outside shot to make the 2013 Opening Day roster after hitting .323 between stops at Class A Winston-Salem, Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte in 2012.
It also was Sanchez who then struggled with a .241 average and a .293 on-base percentage with the Knights in '13. Don't try to tell his friends and teammates, though, that Sanchez's prospect status slipped because of that first misstep into the International League.
"Oh, man. Carlos is still on the rise," said Semien, almost taken aback by any suggestion to the contrary. "He's so young. He's so talented. He makes the game look easy really. I admire what he does. Every time we play up the middle and play on the same team together, he brings more energy out of me. He's an awesome teammate, too."
"That kid is really special," said Johnson of Sanchez. "He's gifted defensively and offensively. People might drop him down [the prospects ranks], but I'm sure he doesn't worry about that. He likes to play, and he's full of energy."
Two things to remember about Sanchez is that he was the youngest player in the International League last season, and he will be just 21 years of age on Opening Day this season.
"I was playing college baseball when I was 21," said a smiling Johnson, who is 23.
"I'm here because I demonstrated I could play at this level, so I'm not going to use my age as an excuse," said Sanchez through a translator. "But you have to give credit to the pitchers. They were able to show me some things about making adjustments and improving."
Apparently Sanchez paid close attention to that particular lesson. The switch-hitter posted a .348 average over 58 games for La Guaira in the Venezuelan Winter League, not to mention a .428 on-base percentage.
His focus fell upon having a better, more consistent plan at the plate and paying more attention to how the pitchers went after him. Sanchez certainly wasn't satisfied with his full-season debut with Charlotte, but as he works during current big league camp, that year becomes a memory.
"You have to turn the page and go forward," Sanchez said.
Johnson topped the Minor League ranks with his 84 stolen bases in '13. He understands the role of a speed guy at the top of the order, and despite having enough pop in his bat to produce seven homers, 24 doubles and 15 triples last season, maintains his focus on that run-scoring intangible attached to his style.
Semien, 23, was named the Southern League Most Valuable Player last year and scored 110 runs between stops at Birmingham and Charlotte. He played third base, second and shortstop during a 23-game stint with the White Sox, producing a .261 average.
Those impressive showings have put both players in the White Sox roster picture, with Johnson targeted more at second base and Sanchez joining Semien in having a little more defensive versatility. They also understand that the work over the next six weeks is the important thing, as opposed to simply looking at trying to break camp with veterans such as Conor Gillaspie, Jeff Keppinger, Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham ahead of them.
"Realistically, you understand your position," Johnson said. "You still don't come here to mess around and enjoy it. You want to work hard like everyone else. They are going to put me where they put me. I'll be playing baseball April 1 somewhere."
"Keep playing in front of this manager and this coaching staff and be here a little bit longer than I was last year," Semien said. "Just get better. Obviously, if I stay consistent playing my game, hopefully good things happen."
When Johnson and Semien aren't practicing their baseball craft in Arizona, they favor video games such as 2-on-2 hockey, NASCAR and Madden with their fellow prospect roommate, Jared Mitchell. They spend as much time together away from the field as they do at the field, which bodes well for their Major League work on the White Sox infield when they eventually are part of the same roster.
"We are trying to be a unit here. We are not individuals," Semien said. "I like the work we've put in so far."